TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — Volunteers for America’s largest interest group are back lobbying in one of the nation’s oldest states. Beginning next week, members of AARP Florida will be engaging lawmakers at the state’s legislative session for the first time since 2019.
Anyone in the State Capitol over the next two months should expect to see AARP members wearing matching red shirts engaged with legislators, staffers and reporters. Florida is the fifth oldest state in the U.S. with a median age of 42 and more than 5.2 million residents over the age of 60.
“During the session we’re going to have a steady stream of volunteers walking the halls,” AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson said. “These older adults are active AARP volunteers who are passionate about sharing their stories and helping elected officials understand how their lawmaking directly affects older Floridians.”
TRAINING SESSION PREPS VOLUNTEERS
Last month, over 20 prospective volunteers visited the Capitol for a two-day training session. They met with members of the Florida House and Senate, including Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, who has been a champion for issues important to older Floridians. Passidomo earned AARP’s Capitol Caregiver Award in 2017 and sponsored legislation in 2018 that strengthened Florida’s guardianship program through protections against elder abuse.
Sarasota resident Sue Lehrer says she learned a lot through the training and feels confident that the group can make an impact.
“The more the legislators see the level of interest and engagement and involvement of people from AARP the more they’ll take the issues seriously,” Lehrer said.
AARP Florida President Ken Thomas said volunteers asked lawmakers tough questions at the training session, but the feedback was positive overall.
“There were no softballs,” he said. “You could see that folks were excited to meet with the legislators and that the legislators are interested in talking to real people about real issues.”
AARP’S AGENDA FOR 2023
AARP Florida’s priorities fall into three categories: health security, consumer protections and livable communities.
Health security issues range from improving nursing home quality to expanded telehealth usage and fighting prescription drug prices. Consumer protections goals include increased age protections in employment and mitigating scam and fraud schemes. Priorities for livable communities would improve roadway safety and disaster preparedness, as well as more affordable housing.
THE VOLUNTEER DIFFERENCE
Health concerns related to COVID caused the organization to hold off on sending volunteers to the Capitol in recent years. Their presence makes a big difference in getting bills passed, according to the organization.
Zayne Smith, AARP Florida’s director of advocacy, says volunteers put a face to “the issues I keep knocking on the door and talking to [legislators] about.”